Originally posted March 23, 2020.
About 98% of our mental activity…the reasons why we do things…is unconscious (Bargh, 2017). Expressive Art, a right brain activity, is a way to access those wordless emotional messages swirling beneath our consciousness. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could unearth some of your own motivating energy, and channel it towards calmer, more measured responses to the confounding situations encountered in your daily life?
Expressive Art helps you identify and sift through your feelings – and the facts – about an issue. By accessing, revealing and then pulling apart the mix of tangled feelings and thoughts, you can shift how you feel and think about an issue. It will help you move into Wise Mind and develop a calmer, more measured response.
Let’s see how this works:
Take something that’s been bothering you, like a situation at work; maybe something that’s been eating at you that involves another person.
On one hand, whenever you think about the situation, you get angry and resentful: your emotions take over and it’s hard to think clearly. You think: Where is the justice? And the thing is, you even realize you are getting too emotional over this! But you cannot seem to pull out of the emotional cycle on this issue.
Sometimes you realize you don’t even want to solve the problem, you’re so mad! And then you think, this problem is unsolvable anyway! And you are afraid you may not get the support of your supervisor, if things escalate.
On the other hand, whenever you think about the facts of the situation, you get more focused. You can understand how you got to this point. You think, like, maybe you’re over-reacting and not considering the other person’s point of view. But, then, you think, the other person will never compromise. And you know, sometimes it’s true: some people are not open to change.
There is not one perfect solution: Usually, there may not be one perfect solution or one way to approach the situation, but clarifying your thoughts and feelings can help clarify some possible actions you can take.
Expressive Art and Wise Mind Exercise
Gather together drawing paper, colored pencils, oil pastels, markers….whatever you like to draw with. Different mediums feel different and evoke different feelings in the user. Colored pencils have one feel and Find a comfortable place where you can clear your head.
Sit quietly, and allow yourself to experience a quiet, introspective mood.
Right brain stuff: Shift from the usual external focus to an internal awareness of your inner felt-sense. Allow your right brain to predominate. Notice how your body feels as you shift gears from thinking and doing into feeling and just being with yourself.
Let yourself feel your feelings. Don’t be afraid. Allow your feelings about the situation to bubble up; whatever they may be. This exercise is for you and is about your feelings, not your actions. Notice what happens in your body: what is tight, what is not tight? Notice the tangential emotional material coming up.
Now allow yourself to somewhat come out of your interoceptive experience to draw what you were feeling. Draw those feelings, in any way you’d like: any colors, any shapes, any imagery. It’s not about being a “good” artist; its just about putting what’s in there, out there, to ponder.
Left brain stuff: When you are done, take a look at what you put down on the paper. Consider the colors and shapes. Take a darker marker and write what you believe the colors and shapes represent. This is the left brain part…allow yourself to recognize and label what you are feeling.
Now, derive meaning from your work. Ask yourself: What does this mean? Does this positively support my growth?
Interpersonal Stuff: Now, ask yourself, as I move towards a solution, am I allowing space for my own self-respect? Am I allowing space for respect for the other person?
DBT Wise Mind Stuff: Take another piece of paper, and draw two intersecting circles. Label the Left Side, Logical Mind. Label the Right Side Emotion Mind. Label the intersection Wise Mind. You can read more on Wise Mind here.
List the Emotions in Emotion Mind. List your Thoughts in Logical Mind, then list the Intersecting ideas on self-respect and other-respect in Wise Mind.
Look at your work and let this sit with you, notice if there is a shift in your thoughts and your emotions about this situation.
Possible Resolution: There may not be a perfect solution to the situation, but you will probably have gained insight into the situation. You may choose to take external action. You may choose to take internal action, meaning you may choose to shift your own perspective and reactions to the situation. That might look like choosing to communicate differently next time something comes up, or the solution may be to strengthening your boundaries.
Getting in touch with the part of you that is imagistic, non-verbal, and emotive and then processing what you find helps shift your emotions. Then, using the DBT Wise Mind construct helps you come to a balanced perspective on a situation, get you out of fight or flight physiology. And then you can devise a new approach.
It’s not about being perfect.
This exercise is about self-respect: about giving yourself enough respect to find out what you really think and feel about a situation. And then choosing to act externally or choosing an internal shift.